Saturday, September 20, 2008

Grateful for a sunset ending

Thank you, Hollyoaks, for a beautiful "sunset ending."

If you are one of the people who do not follow British TV, you won't know that the Brit young-people's soap Hollyoaks has been featuring an honest-to-God gay storyline for two years involving gay teen John Paul McQueen and Craig Dean (played by James Sutton and Guy Burnet) . Not a wimpy, simpering storyline like the Luke-&-Noah story on As The World Turns, but a story involving love, affection, kissing, and even (gasp!) sex (unlike the US version, which keep tiptoeing around even having two gay boys kiss on TV...).

[You can read the storyline on Wikipedia and actually see the John Paul/Craig Dean episodes (s0me 300-plus of them, including all the side stories) on YouTube - this channel has one of the best and most complete archives of the John Paul/Craig stories (also shorthanded "McDean" for McQueen/Dean).]

I've never been a guy for soaps, but as I was coming out, I was searching for any portrayals of gay characters in modern culture. I've enjoyed the John Paul/Craig storyline for a number of reasons:

  • The gay characters in the storyline (John Paul, Craig, Spike, Robin, and Kieron) are normal everyday guys - they play football, listen to dance music, have lively family dramas, and are not stereotypical in any way. They are, as Kieron would say, "just regular blokes."
  • The storyline shows how terribly conflicted teens can be when they find themselves attracted to the same sex. Craig desperately wants to be with John Paul, but goes so far as getting engaged to a girl to prevent having to "be gay." John Paul suffers repeatedly at the hands of other Hollyoaks denizens for being out and open.
  • The characters are openly affectionate on prime-time TV. It's just not a big deal in jolly old England when two blokes kiss on TV - Hollyoaks, Eastenders and Coronation Street, not to mention the sci-fi series Torchwood, all have major gay characters and storylines. And it's not all just tweaked-out club boys getting stoned and getting off - there is real romance present here.
  • The storyline didn't end up with someone getting bashed, dying of AIDS, or running away in denial - although there is plenty of violence and denial in the story. The McDean thread actually ends happily, despite all kinds of tragedies over the two year story arc.
So when John Paul and Craig rode off into the sunset together - literally, into the sunset - on September 18th, it ended a challenging and beautiful storyline. Not being a big teen-soap fan, I'm not sure I would have watched the show if it wasn't for the McDean gay thread. But I have to admit that I'm glad that one popular gay story ends with at least the hope of happily-ever-after.

To James Sutton and Guy Burnet - thank you for having the courage to play your characters with such depth and such conviction. To the producers of Hollyoaks and Britain's Channel 4 TV, thanks for the courage to put this relationship in prime-time, and to make the investment to make it much more real than any gay relationship I've seen in the media to date.

Thanks for the memories, boys.

Friday, August 22, 2008

One little word...

I can't believe it's been nearly six months since I've posted on this blog. Life has been full...

So, it's the 4th weekend in August, and Chris (aka Pookie Bear) has applied for his dream job - working for a well-known RC hobby company in Champaign, Illinois. In emailing with a friend recently, I wrote to her, "I cannot believe, btw, that I am considering moving again. Such is love, I guess." She wrote back, "Ah, so we’re calling it 'love,' are we? I guess we haven’t discussed the status of your relationship with Chris, though it did seem to be going well."

That's what we're calling it, all right. Only because that's what it is...

There are days when I wake up, and still can't believe this is happening.

For the first time in my life, when he says, "I love you just the way you are," I don't automatically assume there is an unstated "...but..." involved. In the 9 months we have known each other, my complexion has been at its worst; my weight has yo-yo'd up and down; the insulin shots I have to take sometime leave really attractive bruises on my stomach (yes, I've found a way to minimize that), and I still sleep with my CPAP breathing machine, probably one of the least sensual pieces of bedroom equipment one could dream of. In short, in the eyes of most of the world, I would definitely be in the "throw-back" category, rather than "a catch."

He can't wait to see me. And to be honest, I feel exactly the same way about him. He's adorable in a way I never thought I'd feel about anyone. It's an amazing experience.

We have vastly different interests. He's a mountain/road biking enthusiast; I haven't been on a bike since seminary (and it wasn't that successful when I was on it then). He loves his Yamaha WR426 dirt-bike; I have no desire to be on a motorcycle (although I have developed an absolutely-genuine interest in AMA supercross and motocross racing, and can't wait for the next race!)

He is a very talented remote-control flyer; it's all I can do to keep an RC plane flying flat and level, let alone taking off or landing (though I have the desire to learn - have had since I was a wee little one). He's a neatnik; I have lived with messes so long, it's definitely been an effort to do the cleaning-up, and I will never be as fanatical about the condition of my cars as he is about his truck and bikes.

He's fascinated by what goes on at my meetings in recovery; he's been to several open meetings (and one admittedly long-and-rambling speaker meeting). I could sit and read, or write, or blog for hours; he has very little use for books, but has developed a great affection for storytelling tapes and CDs. He enjoys what I write, and is one of my cheerleaders. If that book ever gets started (let alone finished), it will be because he'll be kicking me, all the way.

I could go on and on about how our interests dovetail, but are anything but in lock-step. When I have something going on (AA meeting or something), he spends time working on stuff he enjoys. A couple weekends ago, we had plans to go to the Monroe (MI) Jazz Fest - but it was simply an absolutely perfect day to ride his motorcycle - so I sent him off to the Maumee State Forest, and spent time with my family and catching up on work. We have lots of common interests, but that's the very least of it.

Chris and I are soul-mates.

When he's at work, I'm thinking about him, hoping his day at the Son of Evil Empire goes well (or at least not badly). I get phone calls and messages from him; occasionally I'll send him a "luv u" text just to remind him. We literally love to spend time together, doing just about anything - or nothing, as the case may be.

He's caring, and a true cuddle-bear. We're definitely past the "have to be hand-in-hand all the time" stage of the game - but we certainly enjoy it when we are together.

And I've found that intimacy between us - what I was most afraid I'd do miserably at, because of my size, age and health issues - has been a wonderful experience. I've re-discovered romance all over again - my iPod is loaded with all kinds of "cuddle songs" and what my professor Tex Sample would call "belly-rubbers" - the kind of songs where you want to be dancing real slow and real close. Usually, by the time he gets off work (he's working 2nd shift, 3-11 pm) it hurts to stand up long enough to be dancing. But we have wonderful cuddle times, just sprawled out together on the sofa watching the Olympics.

It's not anything like I thought it would be - and it's everything I hoped it would be.

So when he got the word that there might be a place for him at The Company in Illinois, there wasn't any question of "would we go together?" I can no longer imagine any kind of joy in life without this man by my side. I know it's going to be tough; but living with my sister and brother-in-law hasn't always been a bed of roses, either. And living with my landlord and his dog underneath me in Chicago, and living in seminary housing with a room-mate, wasn't always grins-n-giggles either.

There was a moment, about a month ago, where I thought I might be having heart problems. I woke up, heart racing, breathing heavy, dizzy, you name it. I took the medicine I have for panic-attacks (which I sometimes get), and nothing happened. For an hour, in fact. Lying there, freaking out, part of me didn't want to disturb my partner - he'd had a particularly hard day at work that night.

But I simply couldn't risk anything happening to me and not letting him know how much I loved him. That - more than any concern I had for myself - is what made me shake the poor boy awake.

In October 2006, when I first moved here, I was glad I could help out my sister - but I really didn't have any joy for life left. I saw my term-life-insurance policy as the only real value I had left to my life. A year later, I met Chris - and life has just never been the same since. There are parts of my life that I can get terrified about - especially about finances, and the various kinds of insanity that addictive people are prone to.

But I have a lot more will to keep on living - because I want to see, as Paul Harvey says, "the rest of the story...." And, as Stevie Wonder said, "For once in my life, I have someone who needs me."

So yeah - it may very well not be "love." But it's close enough that I'd take it, for the long haul. After forty years, we'll see if he wants to exercise the escape clause - until then, he's stuck with me.

The target for the move to Illinois is October 31. Packing and "trimming-down" has already begun.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

The ballad of Huggy-Bear and Pookie-Bear

Sitting on the floor and talking till dawn
Candles and confidences
Trading old beliefs and humming old songs
And lowering old defenses...

Private little jokes and silly pet names
Lavender soap and lotions
All of the cliches and all of the games
And all of the strange emotions
Singing a love song...

("Love Song," from the musical Pippin)

Chris, The Man From Missouri, has wormed his way deep into my heart - and, it seems, I have done the same to him. I am his "Huggy Bear," and he is my "Pookie Bear" (a play from the musical Rent, if you've seen it). What a rollercoaster this last month has been...a good one, to be sure, but a rollercoaster nonetheless. But history has been rich and thick as extra-creamy Cool Whip for both of us, so, to recap...

Chris had his house for sale for 7 months. In the middle of our third cross-country visit (I spent a week in Missouri the first week of December), his house sold. Closing was on December 28th; and he was ready for an end to Greyhound bus rides to spend time together. So I worked on finding him an apartment he could rent with no immediate job; he worked on getting through all the house-closing hoops.

The adventure to get him here was a journey of inches and miles - him trying to nail down every little detail on the sale of his house in Springfield, MO, and I, trying to juggle year-end closing, finances and family challenges to get down there, and help him drive his belongings back here.

I left December 27th for Chicago, and then from Chicago to St. Louis and Springfield. After all kinds of obstacles all month, Chris' actual closing went without a hitch. But at the end of the day Friday, with the truck packed and ready to go, both of us were exhausted. We elected to crash in a Motel 6 overnight Friday night, and headed out for Toledo on December 29th, and landed here on the 30th. He couldn't move in until January 2, but he had everything so organized it took next to nothing to get everything moved in.

His apartment is in Whitehouse, a little rural community on the southwest outskirts of Toledo - not quite 10 minutes lazy drive from our condo. It's small, but his stuff fits in there fine, and the washer/dryer area has become his "garage," where his bike and tools fit in just fine. So it's workable.

So Chris moved in to his apartment on Weds., January 2nd. On Thursday the 3rd, we left for Washington DC for the national conference of the Gay Christian Network (GCN).

I actually posted about that over here on the Ragamuffin site, just because it was such an incredibly freeing and empowering weekend as a un-ordained minister and former worship leader, to be able to participate in Christian worship with the man I love. It was a freeing experience beyond any that I can describe to you. So many of the beautiful songs and hymns that I hadn't sung since being a worship leader at Faith Lutheran in Prairie Village - gads, nearly 7 years ago. I was such a wreck - just awash in tears of joy at every worship experience while we were there.

Chris went out interviewing the day after we got back from the conference - his 4th day in Ohio. He had a job offer the very next day, as front-desk-clerk/manager trainee at the new Holiday Inn Holidome/waterpark in Toledo. The drive isn't so bad, and the location is new enough that we both think he'll be able to grow into management there. Of course, there are all of the "we don't have a policy for that" challenges with go along with any startup business, and dealing with the general public in Toledo is not such a fun thing (especially when it comes to the water-park, whose clientele certainly can be demanding and bring an air of entitlement, so he's not without his own challenges.

In the meantime, work for me has heated up (as usual), and between Chris' schedule (which gyrates pretty wildly between 7 AM - 3 PM and 3-11 PM) and all my usual busyness, it's pretty much been grab-some-dinner-and-crash, maybe including a movie (if it's not too late). We do what we can...

I'd forgotten what an old romantic I can be (and how much I valued that), to be honest. I've also found that waiting for the right person was worth it, and then some. Because sex wasn't the first thing we were looking for, we managed to find an incredible wealth of common experience between the two of us. He is fascinated with my recovery experience - I'm amazed by his passion for remote-control aircraft flying.

He's always wanted to learn to cook; I am a "let's go play in the kitchen" kind of guy. So I'm also re-discovering cooking, because Chris is definitely kitchen-impaired, but is eager to learn. Some of my old pots, pans and utensils have come out of storage, and we are having fun cooking, when we get the chance. He's more physically fit than I; we are working toward improving that for me. It's a blessing in both directions.

I've found that over a certain age (and thankfully, we are both over it, though he's not far over it...) just the incredible intimacy of cuddling together is something that's very special, all by itself. We'd missed both missed that so badly, having both been affection-starved for quite a while - he in a not-so-healthy relationship that ended months before we met, I in self-imposed closeted celibacy. So the simple act of cuddling and watching movies has been a real treat for both of us - each time we get the chance to just snuggle-up on the sofa, it's still a new experience. That's something I just didn't expect to have such a powerful effect on me, to be sure!

I've started to read to him, as well. Between Favorite Stories from the National Storytelling Conference and Where is Heaven? Children's Thoughts on Death and Dying, we have had a lot to talk about - about life, love, humor, pain, death and dying. You know, small-letter topics...and we've had some great conversations about each of those topics, and a hundred more besides.

In short, this is the story of two people, who surely seem to be madly in love, as well as aware of how badly things could go wrong. We are eager yet cautious; while I surely spend a LOT of time with Chris (whenever I can), I am still getting to AA meetings, and he is going to his first meeting of the local remote-control aircraft flying club, the Toledo Flying Tigers, this Tuesday. He wants to get to an open AA meeting, when his work schedule allows, and I can't wait to go to the Electric Tournament of Champions (E-TOC), an annual indoor festival of RC-aircraft superstars that is held in Toledo the first week of April. And we have about 20 years of vacations planned together...

When we were watching some old movies in my stuff, I came across the musical Pippin. It's a "what's life all about" musical that has several of my long-time favorite songs in it, including the big "will my life having meaning" song, "Corner of the Sky." But I was caught by the message of one of the less-known songs, "No Time At All," and how appropriate it has become for my life. At the end of this, I have two YouTube links - one, a terrible amateur video that has a fairly decent audio-track of the song, and a shorter version done by none other than Irene Ryan, the original "Granny" from The Beverly Hillbillies.

I'd click on the first link, and then scroll through the words. Then I'd go to the end, and hear Granny's version of it. It really captures the spirit of the song better, even if it's not the complete song.

No Time At All - from the musical Pippin

When you are as old as I, my dear
And I hope that you never are
You will woefully wonder why, my dear
Through your cataracts and catarrh
You could squander away or sequester
A drop of a precious year
For when your best days are yester
The rest'er twice as dear....

What good is a field on a fine summer night
When you sit all alone with the weeds?
Or a succulent pear if with each juicy bite
You spit out your teeth with the seeds?
Before it's too late stop trying to wait
For fortune and fame you're secure of
For there's one thing to be sure of, mate:
There's nothing to be sure of!

Oh, it's time to start livin'
Time to take a little from this world we're given
Time to take time, cause spring will turn to fall
In just no time at all....

I've never wondered if I was afraid
When there was a challenge to take
I never thought about how much I weighed
When there was still one piece of cake
Maybe it's meant the hours I've spent
Feeling broken and bent and unwell
But there's still no cure more heaven-sent
As the chance to raise some hell

Oh, it's time to start livin'
Time to take a little from this world we're given
Time to take time, cause spring will turn to fall
In just no time at all....

Now when the drearies do attack
And a siege of "the sads" begins
I just throw these regal shoulders back
And lift these noble chins

Give me a man who is handsome and strong
Someone who's stalwart and steady
Give me a night that's romantic and long
And give me a month to get ready -

Now I could waylay some aging roue'
And persuade him to play in some cranny
But it's hard to believe I'm being led astray
By a man who calls me granny

Oh, it's time to start livin'
Time to take a little from this world we're given
Time to take time, cause spring will turn to fall
In just no time at all....

Oh, it's time to start livin'
Time to take a little from this world we're given
Time to take time, cause spring will turn to fall
In just no time at all....

Sages tweet that age is sweet
Good deeds and good work earns you laurels
But what could make you feel more obsolete
Than being noted for your morals?

Here is a secret I never have told
Maybe you'll understand why
I believe if I refuse to grow old
I can stay young till I die
Now, I've known the fears of sixty-six years
I've had troubles and tears by the score
But the only thing I'd trade them for
Is sixty-seven more....

Oh, it's time to keep livin'
Time to keep takin' from this world we're given
You are my time, so I'll throw off my shawl
And watching your flings be flung all over
Makes me feel young all over
In just no time at all....

(the other version...)